Skip to content

CCFF 2023: Birth/Rebirth & Brooklyn 45

May 17, 2023


On May 6th, the evening of the first full day of the Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF), gave film enthusiasts a double dose of horror at the Music Box Theatre. The horror genre is huge lately, with a new movie coming out at least monthly, if not more. However, it’s rare to see a horror flick steer clear of jump scares, gore, or high kill counts. Thankfully, “Birth/Rebirth” and “Brooklyn 45” are ambitious independent films that are aiming for something more substantive within the genre – one of them succeeds, while another doesn’t quite stick the landing.

“Birth/Rebirth” premiered as a Midnight film back in January at Sundance and it’s easy to see how this unsettling film was appropriate for such a time slot, while “Brooklyn 45” premiered a couple months ago at SXSW. Considering I rarely pay much attention to festival films unless I either have access to them or I’m attending that particular festival, it’s no surprise that I hadn’t heard of either of them until they appeared on the CCFF lineup.

Below are my thoughts on each of these genre films…



(98 min.)


This impressive feature-length debut from director Laura Moss (who co-wrote with Brendan J. O’Brien) incorporates a modern-day twist on the classic Frankenstein story, but posits what would happen if the doctor  obsessed with reanimation was a woman, experimenting on herself. While the film has a developing macabre approach, it is also looking at how pregnant patients are often treated within the U.S. healthcare system and the emotional and physical toll can have on a pregnant woman. This is something hinted at early on, as the film opens on an ambulance rushing an anxious woman in labor to a hospital. There’s a sense that more care and concern is directed toward the condition of the baby as opposed to the health of the mother.

We then meet the two women central to the story: Rose (Marin Ireland, creepy and complex) is a an icy, socially awkward pathologist working at the same Bronx hospital as hard-working maternity nurse, Celie (an excellent Judy Reyes). Rose primarily works on her own, whereas Celie has developed a reputation as a caregiver who goes out of her way to make sure the expectant mother’s are seen and heard. That’s probably because Celie has been in their position, since she herself is the mother of Lila (A.J. Lister), an engaging 6-year-old girl. Their paths unexpectedly cross when Lila suddenly dies from bacterial meningitis, making her a surprisingly idea candidate for experimental work Rose has been working on…reversing death.

Just reading that description and seeing some of the accompanying images from the film makes “Birth/Rebirth” sound like either another zombie flick or an episode of Tales from the Crypt, but it’s much more grounded than what we typically get from a tale of horror. Part of that is due to the tone of the film. Moss and O’Brien inject some humor early on, especially in the way in which Ireland’s Rose interacts (or doesn’t) with others. You can tell she’s a smart and committed researcher, but there is something a little off about her. Maybe it’s in the way she takes home fetal tissue samples and/or medical supplies from work, often times to make concoctions to inject her pet pig with or it could be the way in which she collects “samples” from men she picks up in bars. There’s a humorous albeit weird tone initially that pulls us in and eventually turns into something refreshingly disturbing and weird.

What’s probably the most unsettling about “Birth/Rebirth” is that because it feels so grounded in medical science, there’s a sense that this could happen. The science winds up feeling less like fiction and more like horror, primarily because Moss has done the research and her actors are really losing themselves in their roles. Spending time with the characters Ireland and Reyes portray is quite fascinating, especially when you really don’t know where Moss and O’Brien are taking these characters. We might not agree with what these women wind up doing (to themselves and others), but we understand their motivations.

Ultimately, this is an impressively confident directorial debut from Moss and a clever update on some classic horror tales from a female perspective. It’s that specific point of view, in a story which looks at mothers, how women are treated by the medical profession, and body autonomy, that makes for quiet a compelling and twisted story.

RATING: ***1/2




(92 min.)


On December 27, 1945, four World War II friends are invited over to the Brooklyn brownstone residence of one Lt. Col. Clive “Hock” Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden, “We Are Still Here”), which will be their first reunion after the end of the war.  Army interrogator Marla Sheridan (Anne Ramsay, “A League of Their Own”) and her Pentagon husband Bob Sheridan (Ron E. Rains, ” The Onion’s Film Standard”) arrive at the same time as shifty Major Archibald Stanton (Jeremy Holm, “The Ranger”) and they are joined by hard-nosed Major Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington, “The Hills Have Eyes”), all of whom come together to have some drinks and reminisce about killing Nazis. It doesn’t take long for the already inebriated Hock to divulge the true reason for their get together – he will be attempting a séance in order to communicate with his dead wife, Susie. His guests will have to be convinced that he’s serious and if this is something they should be trying. Throughout the night, friendships will be tested as doubt, disbelief, and suspicion plays on their combat PTSD, paranoias, and prejudices.

Imagine Rod Serling saying all that as he introduces an episode of “The Twilight Zone”.  That’s the kind of macabre tale writer/director Ted Geoghegan (“We Are Still Here”) has crafted, one that has correlations to today, despite it being a period piece. Like many genre stories, it has something to say about the here and now, since certain human behaviors haven’t changed over time unfortunately. While “Brooklyn 45”  could’ve benefited from a trim since much of its dialogue leans on the repetitive side, Geoghegan piques our curiosity by offering characters who have a shared history conveyed by actors who present fully-realized personalities.

Whenever veterans reunite there’s bound to be shared trauma that surfaces, something that is typically buried or simmering. Geoghegan knows this and gives most of the first half of the story over to heavy-dialogue between these characters, some who are meeting in-person for the first time. A palpable tension develops, which is established mostly by what goes unsaid. When the supernatural is added to the mix, the tension increases, but things get even more intense when unexpected guest, Hildegard Baumann (Kristian Klebe, Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”), is revealed, which increases suspicions and finds prejudice and fear surfacing amid an already unstable environment.

“Brooklyn 45” comes from a personal place for Geoghegan, considering he co-wrote the screenplay with his late father, a disabled Air Force Veteran-turned-history teacher. That in and of itself seems like a good story and maybe an even better one than what we have here. There are definitely times when the supernatural elements of the film are underwhelming, but Fessenden (a horror writer/director in his own right) turns in some fine work as Hock, especially in the story’s last 20 minutes when the horror abruptly is cranked up.

RATING: **1/2



“Birth/Rebirth” made its premiere in January at Sundance and will be coming soon to Shudder. “Brooklyn 45” premiered in March at SXSW and is set to be streaming on Shudder on June 9th.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: